Derby Preps Highlight Weekend

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Ted Black

April 11th, 2016

Saturday afternoon Thoroughbred fans had the chance to watch a trio of Grade I, $1 million Kentucky Derby preps at three different ovals and the results may have helped clear a muddied Derby picture.

In the first of those three Derby preps, Outwork narrowly captured the Wood Memorial at Aqueduct for trainer Todd Pletcher and owner-breeder Mike Repole. His victory hardly validated Outwork as a serious Derby hopeful, but his third win in four career starts earned him a spot in the starting gate at Churchill Downs next month.

A sophomore son of Uncle Mo, Outwork narrowly defeated Trojan Nation, who remained winless in six lifetime starts for trainer Paddy Gallagher. Shagaf, who had won his three previous starts for trainer Chad Brown, settled for fourth in a dull outing but could still head to the Derby.

Outwork, Trojan Nation and Shagaf might be headed to the Derby, but the most impressive effort by a three-year-old at Aqueduct on Saturday was delivered by Unified in the Grade III Bay Shore Stakes. A sophomore son of Candy Ride trained by Jimmy Jerkens, Unified notched his second win in as many starts and may have been the biggest rising star on the card.

Slightly later at Keeneland, Brody's Cause rallied from midpack to capture the Blue Grass Stakes by three lengths to punch his ticket to Louisville. The beaten favorite in the Tampa Bay Derby - the same race in which Outwork finished second - Brody's Cause notched his third win in six career tries and became millionaire in the process.

Brody's Cause has now won two Grade I events - both at Keeneland - and will head to Churchill Downs where he garnered his diploma last summer by taking a maiden special weight event at one mile. Brody's Cause will be a serious contender in the Derby, although his connections would probably prefer the race were being held at Keeneland.

Then less than an hour later our west, Exaggerator benefited from a fast early pace and overcame a sloppy track to capture the Santa Anita Derby by five lengths. After finishing second and third in each of his two previous outings this year, Exaggerator now sports four wins and $1.7 million banked in nine lifetime tries for trainer  Keith Desormeaux.

Exaggerator will be among the serious Derby contenders next month, but Mor Spirit will be merit respect on the first Saturday in May. A Pennsylvania-bred runner trained by Bob Baffert, Mor Spirit settled for second in both Southern California Derby preps; the Derby and the San Felipe. The grade one winner boasts three wins and four second-place finishes in seven lifetime outings and would likely prefer a fast track.

While Exaggerator looked stellar in capturing the Santa Anita Derby, Songbird may have earned top billing on the card. Last year's champion two-year-old filly did little harm to her reputation as she led throughout to capture the Grade I Santa Anita Oaks by five lengths to remain perfect on three starts this year and seven lifetime outings for trainer Jerry Hollendorfer.

While Exaggerator and Mor Spirit will head to Churchill Downs for the Kentucky Derby, Songbird will venture to Louisville for the Kentucky Oaks one day earlier. While the Derby will boast upwards of 20 starters, the Oaks will likely have half that many.